Big-name stars can’t keep flick from falling flat
November 17, 2021
On their comedy companion channel Netflix Is a Joke, the streaming giant has a series called Written Entirely by Bots, comprised of animated shorts allegedly written by a computer program tasked with watching thousands of hours of a given genre of film.
If they did one called The First Action-Adventure Film Written Entirely by Bots, I can’t imagine it would turn out much differently than Red Notice.
Seemingly rendered to trigger a new wave of post-human cinema, the new would-be blockbuster doesn’t seem designed by committee as much as it seems designed by algorithm. Hypothetically, it was made to entertain humans but perhaps bots will be trained to watch it to juice up Netflix’s Nielsen numbers and trigger an inevitable franchise. We, the ticket-holders (subscription-holders, more aptly), are finally obsolete.
The story goes that thousands of years ago, Cleopatra received three egg-shaped jewels as gifts that were lost over time and scattered across the world. Cut to present day and their mystique still drives art thieves like Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) to scoop them up and sell the reconvened trio to the highest bidder.
After nearly catching Booth in the act of stealing the first egg from Rome, FBI agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) stays hot on his trail as he travels to Spain, where the second egg is allegedly held by arms dealer Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos). We discover Booth isn’t the only one scooping up eggs, as a fellow burglar known as The Bishop (Gal Gadot) is also drawn to the bejeweled artifacts and threatens to discover the lost third egg before he does.
Generic and Lacking Creativity
From the expository opening voiceover that literally sounds like it was deep-faked into existence to the obligatory sequel its ending portends, Red Notice is gallingly generic throughout its 118-minute runtime. It apes globe-trotting escapades like Indiana Jones and The Mummy, but does so with a stunning lack of personality and originality.
Everyone here is squarely within their wheelhouse: Johnson as the stoic straight man, Reynolds as the wise-cracking fool, and Gadot as the statuesque mystery woman who knows how to kick a butt or two. I understand actors playing to their strengths, but these three stars are so unwilling to move away from their comfort zones that it just comes across as lazy. Perhaps Gadot and company still believe they’re under quarantine singing “Imagine” in their mansions, locked down from venturing out into the world of creativity.
Credited writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber hit it big in the past with comedies like Dodgeball and We’re the Millers, but has transitioned to helming anonymous actioners since teaming with Johnson in 2018’s Skyscraper.
Film Does Land a Few Laughs
Red Notice is a little too eager to please with its comedic notes, but despite itself, it lands a few laughs along the way. Almost all the attempts come courtesy of Reynolds’ trademark quips, which are exhausting in their frequency but not without their occasional wins. His Booth asking a Russian prison cafeteria worker if the gruel he just served is farm-to-table is one such example that caught me off guard enough to chuckle. However, on the subject of food and drink, I can’t roll my eyes hard enough at the fact that Reynolds didn’t think we’d notice product placement for his own line of gin.
Just like the on-screen persona that Reynolds has crafted over the past twenty years, Red Notice is simply far too pleased with itself. It’s fueled by the same self-satisfied soullessness that has plagued blockbusters in the past.
But the fact that Netflix is cynical enough to bet on this brand of entertainment for home viewing further demonstrates their commitment towards quantity over quality. Just this month, they’ve already released two other films — The Harder They Fall and Passing — that are well worth one’s time but won’t get half the views of this star-studded sham.
New Movies Coming This Weekend
Coming only to theaters is Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a supernatural comedy sequel starring Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard about a recently evicted family who moves to a farmhouse and experiences unexplained earthquakes that they suspect could be tied to the paranormal.
Playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max is King Richard, a sports biopic starring Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis about how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.
Premiering on Netflix is Tick, Tick… Boom!, a musical starring Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp about an aspiring theater composer in a quarter-life crisis as he approaches 30 and does not feel close to his dream.